Fixing your focus

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The man who succeeds above his fellows is the one who, early in life, clearly discerns his object and towards that object habitually directs his powers. Even genius itself is but fine observation strengthened by fixity of purpose. Every man who observes vigilantly and resolves steadfastly grows unconsciously into genius.” –Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

“Directed attention” is one of many definitions of the word “focus” as compiled by the Merriam-Webster dictionary – and it’s something that I’ve been pondering lately in relation to the trucking business.

“Focus” came to mind in a recent story I wrote about Con-way Freight’s effort to group until-now disparate less-than-truckload (LTL) offerings into a single “Global LTL” division. From my perspective, at least, the move seemed to unnecessary – I mean, heck, Con-way Freight’s “LCL” or “less than container load” service for ocean container shipments coming from Asia to the U.S. in partnership with APL Logistics as well as its expedited LTL in partnership with TNT for air freight service to the U.S. from Europe seemed to pretty well as is. Why complicate things by grouping them together in one division?

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“We’ve already been providing a lot of LTL to global shippers, but it’s an effort that’s been screaming for some organization for some time,” Bill Wynne, Con-way Freight’s vice president of marketing, told me. John Labrie, Con-way Freight’s president, added that the purpose behind forming the “Global LTL” division is to bring all of the carrier’s worldwide LTL solutions under one umbrella. That would make it more convenient than ever for shippers to quickly and intuitively locate the LTL service that best meets their needs, he explained.

In effect, grouping these different serviced together – LCL and expedited LTL – is going to help Con-way Freight sharpen its focus and maybe use those established services to find other business they may have overlooked when the two offerings functioned separately.

My journalistic compatriot Tim Brady mentioned in a recent post on his blog that this type of “focus” is how even small motor carriers can still make a profit in the trucking business – focus sharpened with planning, forethought, and the use correct business principles. “If you’re a small motor carrier, you should be looking for a specific niche in which to specialize,” he wrote.

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“If you want to compete in the truckload side of the business, you have to provide something no one else is willing to do, and then do it better than anyone else could,” Brady (at left) explained. “There’s always a need for any size company which provides excellent customer service. So yes, you can be successful in trucking, as long as you make a plan, know your costs, and be sure your rates reflect those costs. Find and fill your niche and become the best in the lane you service.”

Another business expert I regularly follow, Professor Jerry Osteryoung (below on the right) from the college of business at Florida State University, also believes “focus” is a critical attribute to have in business today. In a recent column, he related an interesting story illustrating why a lack of focus could morph into a big problem for any company today, large or small, trucking or non-trucking:

“We’ve been helping an entrepreneur who has been in business for over 15 years, but whose revenues have lately been on a free fall. I asked him to develop a marketing plan, but he had so many problems doing so. It just baffled me that this intelligent, bright man was having so much difficulty writing a marketing plan.

Given [his] difficulty with the marketing plan, I went back to ground zero and asked him what his mission and vision statements were. Both turned out to be so general that they were of no value. During these conversations, he showed me the company brochure, which listed ten different, unrelated services that his company provided. I then understood why the marketing plan and other core statements were impossible for him to complete: There was no hope of having a focused message or a focused business while providing so many different services.

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I asked him how he managed to get involved in all of these different areas, and he said that his clients had asked him to do additional work outside of his core strengths. In response, he went ahead and did these things and developed an expertise. He just thought the more services he offered his clients, the more business he would generate. Unfortunately, he just neglected to consider how trying to do too many things for too many different types of clients would dilute his efforts.

We spent one meeting just discussing which of the areas he was passionate about and which there was a market for. He decided to focus on business coaching. From this, it was easy for him to develop succinct vision and mission statements as well as a very good marketing plan. Once he was able to focus, the rest was simple. Without this focus, everything was just too scattered.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having multiple product lines, but having too many will cause you to lose focus – and the more you lose focus, the less control you have on your business. You need to understand that every new market thrust leaves less time to manage and run existing product or service lines. So instead of asking what the returns from the expansion are, the question should ask what the returns from the expansion are less the losses brought about by reduced effort on existing products or services."

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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